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Explore Orlando Beyond Its Theme Parks

Orlando is best known for its theme parks, but if your children are too young or too old to appreciate the rides and roaming characters, or if your family craves different adventures, there are plenty of kid-centric activities and entertainment options to wow everyone. Plus, October’s a great off-season time to see Orlando, save money and avoid crowds.  

What To Do

Head to the new I-Drive entertainment and dining complex to take in the awesome views from the 400-foot-high Orlando Eye, the tallest observational wheel on the East Coast — nearly twice as tall as our beloved Texas Star. The enclosed capsules hold up to 15 people for the 20-minute ride. $25 adults; $20 ages 3–12. Buy online in advance to save $5 per ticket.

Rent a swan-shaped paddleboat and explore Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando. Each boat fits five people and costs $15 per half hour. The kids can also feed some real swans, catch a live concert or sample seasonal goodies at the farmers market held every Sunday.

To really get out in nature, join a guided Saturday morning walk at the Enchanted Forest Nature Sanctuary in Titusville, 45 minutes east of Orlando. A nature center with hands-on exhibits is home base for several short loop trails through scrub and swampland, including the 1/10th-mile, interpretive Enchanted Crossing trail, accessible by stroller and wheelchair. Free; closed Mondays.

For some high-adrenaline fun sans roller coaster, take your kids to Cocoa Beach Parasail for a boat ride into the Atlantic and a 7- to 15-minute flight above the ocean to see the Kennedy Space Center, dolphin pods and even breaching whales. Ages 5 and up can soar; book in advance starting at $80 per person. And for high-speed thrills over land, opt for one of three zip lining tours at Forever Florida, where ages 8 and up can zoom through the treetops. The family-friendly Zip Line Adventure, with seven zips and three sky bridges, costs $79.99 per person, while the more extreme Thrill Pack is $69.99 apiece.

Take animal lovers for a day trip to Giraffe Ranch in Dade City, about an hour’s drive from Orlando, to see zebras, lemurs, rhinos and, yes, giraffes during intimate, guided excursions through the 47-acre preserve. Tour by canopy-shaded safari vehicle, on camelback (ages 4 and older) or even by llama (ages 10 and older). Reservations by phone are required. $90 per person by vehicle; $180 by camel or llama.

On a rainy day, stop in to the new Crayola Experience to personalize your own crayon, create a digital mural or make a cool sculpture at the drip art station. $18.99 online; $22.99 at door; free for ages 2 and younger. Got a sweet tooth? The World of Chocolate Museum offers tours where kids learn how chocolate is made. Check out the sculpture room’s 25 famous landmarks — all carved out of chocolate. Best part: samples from around the world. $16.95 adults; $12.95 children; free for ages 3 and younger.


When you stay at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek or the Waldorf Astoria Orlando resorts, you get access to both facilities. Splash in the pools, relax on the lazy river or in the hot tub, and enjoy the water slide. Bonus: There’s a terrific view of the nightly fireworks over Magic Kingdom every night from either hotel. And if you decide to pop in to a theme park, the resorts offer complimentary shuttles. Hilton rates start at $179 for a double room; Waldorf Astoria rates start at $249.


The nonprofit Enzian Theater in nearby Maitland has an eclectic slate of new movies, classic films, stage broadcasts and family events, including Peanut Butter Matinees on the fourth Sunday of the month (free for kids 12 and younger) and a free monthly outdoor movie series called Popcorn Flicks; upcoming shows include The Karate Kid and Aladdin in November. On Oct. 23, the Enzian is throwing a Halloween bash with games, lunch and a showing of Hotel Transylvania. $18 per person.

On the first Monday of the month, explore 50 acres of tropical plants and sculptures by Florida artists free of charge at the Harry P. Leu Gardens. Be sure to visit the butterfly gardens or join the preschool story time.